There’s nothing at Larina except dead people and gravestones. Which makes this 7th century village perched high on perilous cliffs overlooking the Bugey nuclear power station, its sinister looking reactor globes a mere sling shot away from what used to be a village hall, a very strange place indeed.
I’ve seen a lot of archaeological sites and this was no different from all the others: the scattered ruins of an ancient village complete with burial site and chapel nearby. People used to live here a long time ago. But why wouldn’t they? The weather was favourable for growing a wide variety of crops on the fertile plains of the Rhone. The views were great. And the steep cliffs must have made the settlement almost impregnable. But this wasn’t why I’d come here. I’d come to this part of Rhone-Alpes to find a place to swim.
I’d driven out to the river at St. Romains-de-Jalionas, but would have struggled to sail a model boat in it, yet alone immerse my Sunday morning croissant bloated body. I headed for the oddly named village of Optevoz and the Ambey Gorge. But I never found either because of infuriating French road signage. So ended up at Larina by accident looking at the empty graves of people who died 1300 years ago and a ruined chapel that was reputed to be the oldest in the Western world.
In truth though, the chapel did look like it had administered a fair few weddings, services and funerals in it’s time. The only visible remains now being the East Wall standing less than a foot high. In its day I imagined that it must have been nice to get married here with the Alps in full view. A huge sense of history ran through me as I saw the view as it would have looked in the year 713. Despite everything mankind has achieved, destroyed, wrecked, written, painted, designed and discovered, this view of the Alps hasn’t changed. With no roads, power lines, farms, agriculture, people, cars or trucks, this framed panorama of the Haute Savoie gave me little evidence that mankind had ever existed. It was a strangely pleasant thought.
I said an RIP to the long dead souls in the graves and headed back. The drive taking me through villages built from deep red local sandstone. And then I got to the tedium of Lyon where everything changed to the colour of concrete and soot.
Why do we live in such big places? Why do we feel the need to cluster? Scratching and stabbing ourselves in the back with the slightest twitch simply for a large choice of restaurants, cinemas, bars and cafes. Bountiful art hanging from the walls of galleries. Shelves of ancient artefacts in museums. Lots of jobs staring at computer screens. Serving customers in shops stuffed with tat. Supermarkets, one every street, selling cellophane packaged pears and half-baked Italian bread. Pharmacies, hairdressers, jewellers, furniture stores all waiting for us to part with the buck made typing numbers into a computer screen. It’s madness. But we don’t think anything of it because ‘It’s Civilisation!’ Not that the people of Larina would agree. Not if they saw how we lived.
‘You live where? Oh, Lyon, that stinking festering rat hole up the river. Where they live in caves built one on top of each other. Where you’d be lucky to get a decent view of the Alps unless you bent your neck into a periscope. Where the shit’s piled dog-high because nobody can be arsed to clean it up. Where the roads are jammed with clowns. Not to mention the prices. And the food. Offal! And when you die they simply throw you in the river.
You should come and live up here in Larina: superb views, fresh air, cheap housing, simple food, good wine, good community. We’re civilised you know…’